Four Downs: Kentucky's Keys to an Upset of the Vols

In this edition of AllWildcats' "Four Downs," we take a closer look at four keys to Kentucky's chances to upset the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.

1. Pass Rush

Kentucky is facing another talented quarterback this week who, in many ways, mirrors the player who ripped the Wildcats' defense to shreds last week. Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs has a lot of the same characteristics as Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. They're two of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, and it's a "pick your poison" type of proposition when you implement the game plan. Perhaps it's a good thing that UK gets to see them in back to back weeks. Getting torched by Prescott (348 passing, 117 rushing, 6 combined TDs) certainly gave the Cats a lot of improvement points to focus on in practice this week, and UK head coach Mark Stoops says his defense got some of the issues addressed. Kentucky must generate more pressure on Dobbs than it got on Prescott, who was barely touched all night long in Starkville. Getting a healthy Jason Hatcher back at the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position could be a big key. He was sorely missed last week. 

2. Pass Protect

On the flip side, the UK offensive line must be prepared for a Tennessee pass rush that produced five sacks last week against Alabama, including two by junior defensive end Corey Vereen. Junior linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin is another dangerous threat with 10.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading four sacks on the season. The Vols are a difficult read in this regard. There's a lot of talent in the front seven, but it hasn't been very consistent. They had only four sacks combined in the previous four games leading up to Alabama, including none against Western Carolina or Arkansas. But for UK to have any chance to win Saturday, it must keep Patrick Towles' jersey clean and give him a chance to pick out open targets against a UT pass defense that ranks 13th in the SEC. 

3. Make Vols Settle for FGs

When Kentucky's defense was showing improvement earlier this season, the Cats were giving up yards, but forcing opponents to settle for field goals when they reached the red zone. That hasn't been the case the last two games against Auburn and Mississippi State. UK is likely going to surrender a considerable amount of yards to the Vols, who enter the matchup averaging almost 416 yards and 34 points per game. But if the Cats can turn stingy as the field shrinks, it will greatly improve their chances of winning. Tennessee has been extremely shaky in the kicking game, where Aaron Medley has made only nine of his 17 field goal attempts this season. Kentucky also has to be on point in the coverage game. The Vols have returned two kickoffs and one punt for scores this season. 

4. Keep It Close Until 4th Quarter

If the Cats fall behind early, they shouldn't panic. Tennessee has lost three games this season that it led by 13 or more points, including a 17-point collapse against Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sonners. Think the two brothers have exchanged a few notes this week? I wouldn't recommmend taking that approach Saturday, but if the Cats can hang around until the fourth quarter and stay within striking distance, the Vols could tighten up once again. 

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